Saturday, January 24, 2015

Елена (Elena) (2011)

Director: Andrey Zvyaginstev
Writers:  Andrey Zvyaginstev, Oleg Negin
Cast:       Nadezhda Markina, Andrey Smirnov, Elena Lyadova
Language: Russian


When a sudden illness and an unexpected reunion threaten dutiful housewife Elena's potential inheritance, she must hatch a desperate plan...

Vladimir is a rich widower whose estranged daughter is a hedonist. He lives in his plush home with his nurse/wife who was originally a nurse from the hospital where he had a surgery ten years back. The nature of their relationship is not made explicit till late into the film with her acting very much like his nurse but also engaging in casual sex with him. She has a good for nothing son whose family is dependent on her. Vladimir doesn't want to get involved with their affairs in a financial sense since he believes in responsible parenting despite how his own daughter turned out. He is portrayed as someone who lived for money leading to what looks like an unhappy retirement depending on one's point of view. When he suffers an unexpected heart-attack, his daughter (Elena Lyadova from Leviathan) kind of mend ways with him. While recovering at home, he informs Elena that he is planning to make a will where almost all his wealth will go to his daughter leaving only an annuity for her. This shakes her up leading her to use Viagra to create an induced heart-attack leading to his death. She kind of justifies herself by quoting Bible even though she doesn't wait for divine intervention. It can be classified as a stripped down noir film.

The basic story is very predictable but what makes the film different is the lack of sentimentality after the major event in it. Elena carries on without much remorse and there is no immediate consequences to her actions. Director does indeed make the case that whatever she is doing for her family is gonna be futile since money is not gonna make any meaningful difference to their lives in a good way. It is the age old morality concepts like 'Greed is not Good', 'Blood is thicker than water' and 'Being rich won't make you happy' that are being retold  without hammering our heads with it. Does it say anything about modern Russian society? I don't think anything in particular since it is anyway applicable everywhere irrespective of geography. Crows are used in a symbolic way to mean as a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

Philip Glass' music is sparingly used but with great effect like in Leviathan. Film was premiered at Cannes in the 'Un Certain Regard' where it won the special jury prize. Overall it is great watch without reaching the heights of his other works that I have seen: 'Leviathan' and 'The Return'. Got to say parenting is a running theme in his films.

Rating: 4/5